How the Government embraced Twitter and Facebook

MPs are using social media to engage constituents in new ways


Government agencies are turning to social media to reach out to and interact with their target audiences in innovative ways.

At a Social Media for Government conference yesterday, several federal, state and local agencies described various efforts to engage constituents using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Similar to what's happening in the corporate world, most of these government efforts appear to be growing organically, not as formal social media strategies. And as with private companies, the ones leading the efforts appear to be those in the communications, public relations and human resources fields.

Here's a sampling of some of the social media experiments described at the conference, which was organised by the Advanced Learning Institute:

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department (SLVHD)

When Utah's SLVHD launched its "One Small Change -- For the Health of It" campaign earlier this year, it wanted to spread information about the community health program to as many of its constituents as possible.

So in addition to standard community outreach efforts, the SLVHD's public relations team decided to try social media as a communication channel for the first time.

With no marketing budget to speak of, employees shot and edited a promotional video themselves using a flip camera and Apple's iMovie app, then uploaded the video to YouTube. They also cross-promoted both the video and the campaign via Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

It's too soon to tell how effective the campaign has been. But one thing that's clear is organizations can't afford to ignore social media any longer, said Kate Lilja, public information specialist at SLVHD. Those who do are missing out on a free way to communicate with people who get their information -- sometimes exclusively -- via social media, Lilja said during a conference session.

Established as a sort of Facebook for the Feds, has over attracted more than 17,500 members from the government community in the 18 months or so since its creation. The site is modeled along the lines of Facebook and is designed to give government workers a place to connect and share best practices on government topics, according to founder Steve Ressler.